Top 10 Live Action Adaptations Of Stephen King Books
Ten Of The Best From The Maine Man…
Stephen King is arguably the best and most prolific author of the modern era. Having bombarded readers with best-seller after best-seller for decades at this point, King has also managed to create a wealth of enduring, world-famous characters in the process.
Turning to movies, it’s safe to say that nowhere is the “Fear Of Missing Out” phenomenon as prevalent as Hollywood, so naturally many of King’s works have been translated into movies and TV mini-series’ over the years (albeit with wildly varying results.)
Not all adaptations of King’s books were created equally, and for every Green Mile to thrill and captivate audiences, there is a Running Man disappoint and annoy all including Mr King himself.
There have obviously been (paper) boat loads of King adaptations over the years, with many stories getting multiple live action versions and remakes decades apart. With that in mind, it’s highly likely that your personal favourite is either way too low on our list, or maybe doesn’t even feature at all.
Let’s find out; here are our top ten live action adaptations of Stephen King books.
(10) Apt Pupil (1998)
This 1998 movie based on the short story of the same name stars Sir Ian McKellen as a fugitive Nazi war criminal – Kurt Dussander – living under an assumed name in southern California. All seems to be going well for Nazi Gandalf until an astute high school student Todd Bowden – played by the late Brad Renfro – discovers his secret and blackmails Dussander into sharing his gruesome concentration camp stories with him.
Under the guise of being neighbourly to an elderly… erm… neighbour, Bowden starts to spend more and more time with Dussander, and his requests/demands become increasingly bizarre. Their uneasy alliance soon turns sinister in the extreme, and the duo’s already tentative relationship begins to break down with dramatic consequences for all concerned.
Apt Pupil is an absolute gem of a film, with a spectacular performance from McKellen in the lead role, and an equally harrowing portrayal of a messed up teen from Brad Renfro; it’s just such a shame he died so young and never got to fulfil his obviously massive potential.
(9) Carrie (1976)
In this 1976 movie, directed by Brian De Palma, the awesomely named Sissy Spacek plays the titular role of 16yr old Carrie White. Carrie lives at home with her super-religious mother, and is unpopular, to say the least, at her high school. Carrie is mocked and bullied by her fellow students, and is basically just a downtrodden, sympathetic character.
Doesn’t sound very Stephen King so far, does it?
Carrie has telekinetic powers. There you go; feel better now?
Making nearly twenty times its production budget at the box office, and earning two Oscar nominations in the process, the movie is considered a classic of the genre, and just so happens to feature one of the most iconic, instantly-recognisable scenes in horror history.
(8) It (1990)
Okay, wait; just wait…. Before you boycott the rest of the article and start setting fire to Middlesbrough shirts in protest that this isn’t higher up the list, just hear me out.
Still here? Awesome.
The 1990 TV adaptation of IT was a huge deal at the time, and went on to terrify audiences for years, creating generations of Coulrophobics in the process.
Tim Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise the Dancing Clown was horrific in the best possible way, combining moments of comedy with scenes of genuine terror. The music in the series is incredible, and the performances by the main cast terrific.
Have you tried watching it lately? Or even in the last decade? Man, has it aged badly. From the oversized 90s shirts to the ponytails, from the Beach Boys to the mechanical spider at the end… It’s bad (see what I did there?)
Take your copies and throw them in the sea; I guarantee you they’ll float.
(7) Pet Sematary (1989)
I just want to stress at the outset that this is the original Pet Sematary, not the 2019 remake; that one was an absolute dumpster fire.
Based on one of King’s best and most famous books, the original 1989 movie is actually pretty impressive. When the Creed family cat – Church – is found dead by their elderly neighbour, Jud, the old man takes Lewis Creed to an ancient burial site – the Pet Sematary – to bury the family pet. Cut to the following day, and the cat is alive and, well… not ‘well’ exactly, but alive at least.
After the tragic death of young Gage Creed, his grief-stricken father exhumes his body and buries him instead in the Pet Sematary, hoping that Gage, too, will return to life.
Spoiler alert: he does…
Gage is now completely altered, killing Jud before killing his mother, and generally being a stabby, slicey little ghoul, and things go even further downhill from here.
All in all Pet Sematary is a great and truly frightening movie.
(6) Doctor Sleep (2019)
A much more modern entry, next, with 2019’s Doctor Sleep.
Directed by Mike Flanagan and starring Ewan ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ McGregor, Doctor Sleep is the sequel to The Shining (just wait, we’ll get there…), and continues the story of a now grown-up, creepy tricycle kid Danny Torrance (McGregor).
Haunted – quite literally – by his childhood demons, Torrance has hit rock-bottom and is struggling in the grip of his addictions, until he becomes aware of a young girl with similar psychic powers to his own, and vows to protect her from a cult who wish to kill the girl in order to extend their own lives.
You know what you’re going to get with McGregor, so it should come as no surprise that he does an impeccable job as the adult Danny, and the nods, winks, and callbacks to The Shining will no doubt thrill fans of the series.
A great follow up to the Jack Nicholson classic, which thankfully never succumbs to the temptation to simply throw around fan service for its own sake.
(5) Salem’s Lot (1979)
Another King classic responsible for a generation of kids hiding behind the sofa in terror, Salem’s Lot is the story of a writer – no surprise to King fans – who returns to his home town of (Jeru)Salem’s Lot, Maine, only to discover that its citizens have started turning into vampires.
As you do.
Directed by Tobe Hooper, and starring David Soul and James Mason, the Salem’s Lot mini series remains mostly faithful to King’s novel, but makes some changes in the interests of streamlining the story.
One huge departure, however, concerns the villainous ‘Vamp, Mr Barlow.
Unlike his written counterpart who appears as a normal looking human being, Kurt Barlow in the series is an absolute horror. In fact, the series’ producer Richard Kobritz is on record saying he wanted to go back to the old German Nosferatu model as their inspiration, creating a much more frightening, literal monster for the live action version.
To his credit, it totally works.
(4) The Shining (1980)
“What? Only number 4? Right, I’m getting my rifle…” I hear you shout in anger, but stay with me on this…
The Shining is arguably the biggest and most famous movie based on a Stephen King property, and when you have Stanley Kubrick behind the camera and Jack Nicholson in the lead role, it’s not difficult to see why it’s so beloved.
In short, The Shining tells the story of Jack Torrance, a struggling writer and recovering alcoholic, who takes up a position as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. His wife and their son Danny (remember him?), come along for the winter gig, and Danny’s psychic powers (“The Shining”) come into full effect in this haunted place.
We’ve all seen it, and we all know about the legendary “Here’s Johnny” scene.
The movie showcases many huge changes to and departures from King’s original novel, much to the famous dissatisfaction of King himself. The biggest and most obvious change is in the very characterisation of Jack Torrance. Book Jack is a kind and well-intentioned man whose mind is slowly unravelled by his experiences in the Overlook, whereas movie Jack is just a nasty piece of work from start to finish. His eventual death at the end of the movie, too, is completely different.
As great as The Shining is, it’s just too different to the source material to warrant being any higher on this list.
(Plus, I don’t want to piss off Stephen King…)
(3) The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
A movie which many probably won’t even realise is a Stephen King property, The Shawshank Redemption is a bit of an outlier here as it contains zero monsters, vampires, clowns, nor ghostly apparitions.
In this Frank Darabont directed movie, banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is sentenced to life in Shawshank State Penitentiary for the murders of his wife and her lover. After befriending fellow prisoner and contraband smuggler Ellis “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman), Dufresne uses his knowledge and skills as a banker to become a valuable cog in the prison money-laundering machine, led by Warden Samuel Norton.
And what does any self-respecting banker need to survive in the slammer? Well, a small claw hammer and a massive poster of Rita Hayworth, obviously.
Though it struggled at the box office upon release in 1994, it has since become a cult favourite among King fanboys and newcomers alike, and can also stand alone as a feel-good, heart warming movie in its own right, King’s name notwithstanding.
(2) Misery (1990)
Oh, Annie Wilkes… Sweet, innocent Annie Wilkes.
When a famous author of generic, romantic fiction – the Misery Chastain novels – Paul Sheldon, drunkenly runs his car off the road during a snow storm, he wakes up battered, bruised, broken, but alive, in the home of his self-proclaimed number one fan, nurse Annie Wilkes.
Annie discovers that Sheldon has killed off the character of Misery Chastain in his latest novel and completely loses it, forciung him to write a new entry, resurrecting her beloved Misery.
As Annie’s mental state spirals and her treatment of Sheldon becomes more cruel by the day, Sheldon’s only goal is to survive his ordeal… and kill Annie.
Kathy Bates is phenomenal as Wilkes (though I do prefer Lizzy Caplan’s take on the character in the Castle Rock series), and the movie sticks extremely closely the source material, with any changes feeling right and necessary.
Misery is truly excellent, and is only held off the top spot by….
(1) It: Chapter 1 & 2 (2017/19)
Okay, so this is a bit of a two-for-the-price-of-one cop out.
It is, however, totally right and fair to state that Andy Muschietti’s two part adaptation of the novel ‘It’ is absolutely deserving of the number one position.
The first instalment of the story follows a group of outsiders (the self-deprecating “Loser’s Club”) from the small town of Derry, Maine. The younger brother of de facto group leader Bill Denbrough – 6yr old Georgie – is brutally murdered by Pennywise the Dancing Clown, the friends attempt to track down and destroy the killer clown.
Part two takes place 27 years later, when the now adult Losers are called back to Derry to once again face their nemesis, who has resurfaced and picked up his child killing ways.
With a stellar ensemble cast featuring the likes of Bill Skarsgard, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain (no relation to Misery), and even a certain Mr Stephen King himself, both movies are absolutely stellar.
Masterfully written, beautifully shot, wonderfully acted; genuinely funny in addition to absolutely terrifying, It: Chapters 1 & 2 are the best adaptations of Stephen King properties to date.
Go watch them now, or you’ll float too…
Article written by Chris Joyce